The two long blocks of Lyndale Street east of Kedzie Boulevard were first laid out by real estate developer John Johnston Jr. in 1881, and originally named Johnston Avenue. The development of the street began near California Avenue, near the old Northwest Plank Road (now Milwaukee Avenue). The area, at the time, was outside the city limits. It attracted working-class families looking for cheaper wood-frame housing, which was not allowed by Chicago’s strict fire code. The street offered more space and fresh air than the crowded tenement districts and polluted industrial neighborhoods closer to the city, where many immigrants first lived when arriving in Chicago.
In 1889, Chicago annexed the area then called the Town of Jefferson. And in 1895, the Metropolitan Elevated Railroad (today’s Blue Line) connected Logan Square to downtown. In the next decade, the street filled westward with workers’ cottages and larger wooden two-flat buildings. The frame houses closest to Kedzie Boulevard were built in 1892 and 1893. The 20-unit buildings at the corner of Lyndale and Kedzie were built in 1906 (the Henrietta Apartments at 2333-37 North Kedzie) and 1911 (the Jeanette Apartments at 2245-49 North Kedzie).
Most of the first residents of Lyndale Street worked as laborers and tradespeople. Quite a few carpenters, painters, plasterers, and stone carvers are listed there in city directories from the 1890s. These residents helped build some of the larger houses, flats and apartment building on the nearby boulevards in the following decade.
The Lyndale Street workers’ cottages are defined by gable-roofed houses of one to one-and-a-half stories, built to fit the narrow, 25-foot-wide Chicago city lots. Some were later enlarged to two stories to add an extra apartment. These humble wooden dwellings represented a significant sacrifice of working-class family income, but home ownership could provide refuge from the insecurities of a fickle labor market.
Two-flat owners could rely on tenant income, while others ran businesses out of their homes or took in boarders to help pay the mortgage in lean times. When there was extra money, wooden houses could be expanded by raising the structure to add another floor or basement underneath. Enclosing porches or adding on to the rear of a building provided extra room for growing families.
Developer John Johnston Jr. initially sold the lots at the east end of the street as undeveloped property, and some of these lots changed hands among speculators several times before any structures were built. A few of the early houses may have been built by solitary carpenters and quickly sold.
Later, Johnston transferred many of the remaining lots to his business partner, Charles Graves, who built rows of matching cottages ready-made for buyers to move in. Over the years, these houses have been modified and remodeled extensively. Their original façades are hidden behind layers of shingles and vinyl siding, so they no longer look as alike as they once did. The changes to the houses are a record of the changing needs of the families who lived in them.
Johnston Avenue was renamed Lyndale Street in 1920. The real estate boom of that decade brought a wave of teardowns to Logan Square. On Lyndale, brick two-flats were squeezed into empty lots between older houses, such as at 3056 West Lyndale. Several houses on the block were torn down to build the large, yellow-brick apartment buildings at 3001 and 3100 West Lyndale. The wave of gentrification in recent years has changed the architectural look of the street to an even greater extent. In the past five years alone, 24 of the original houses on these two blocks have been torn down to make way for new development.
The Lost Houses of Lyndale is an ongoing project by Logan Square artist Matt Bergstrom to draw portraits of demolished houses and record the histories of the families who once lived in them.